Dark Chocolate_ A Miraculous Functional Food

Before It Becomes A Chocolate, There Was A Tree

By: Pallavi Vathiar. Practicing clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.

Email: fihealthie@gmail.com

This Is Where It All Began From

Chocolate’s 4,000-year history began in ancient Mesoamerica, present day Mexico. It’s here that the first cacao plants were found. The Olmec was the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate. They drank their chocolate during rituals and used it as medicine.

The Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods. Mayan chocolate was a revered brew made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chilies, water and cornmeal. Mayans poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called “xocolatl”, meaning “bitter water.” The Latin name for the cacao tree was ‘Theobroma’ meaning “Food of the Gods” (1).

Journey from Cacao Tree Chocolate Bar
The cacao tree grows in the tropical heat on the equator bearing fruit that grows straight out of the trunk. It has almost 30-40 beans in each pod with a white mucous-like coating which is further processed in multiple methods.

These important steps such as Harvesting, Fermenting, Drying, Roasting and Winnowing are carried out to make a delightful smooth chocolate at its peak flavour.

Then comes, Grinding, Conching, Tempering and Molding where this pure, unrefined form of chocolate contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

The cocoa mass is then transferred for conching where it is further refined. It’s during this process that sugar, milk powder (for milk chocolate) and other flavouring are added to the chocolate. Chocolate should have a shiny finish and a good “snap” (when you break a piece!) this is where tempering and moulding comes into the picture where raising and lowering of the temperature of the chocolate is conducted to form the perfect kind of crystals and making a finished chocolate bar is by pouring it into a mold. And is been tasted to analyze its quality and perfection (2).

Dark Chocolate in Human Health and Diseases

Whereas dark chocolates are rich in Iron, Copper, Magnesium, Zinc, Phosphorus and Flavanols it also comes with end number of health benefits.

Enhancing Cardio Vascular Health

Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, with its high content of flavonoids, has proven to be a promising food in terms of its cardiovascular effects.

A study of nearly 20,000 people, followed over a period of eight years, concluded that those who ate an average of 6 grams (0.2 ounces) of chocolate per day had a 39 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke (3).

According to the results from clinical trials, positive vascular effects were observed overall in the group eating the Higher Cocoa Chocolate (HCC).

  • Cardiac function was improved on certain functional parameters in the HCC group.
  • A statistically significant improvement was depicted over the brachial and central systolic and pulse pressures in the HCC group.
  • VAC (ventricular–arterial coupling) parameters showed a significant improvement in the HCC group after intervention, increasing from 0.674 to 0.719.
  • In addition, significant variation was observed in arterial and left ventricle elastances, stroke work, and potential energy, with greater mean differences identified in the HCC group (4).

Improved Blood Pressure

The study was carried out by researchers from the Polytechnic Institute of Coimbra in Portugal and the University of Gothenburg observed the participants whoc ate 20g of either high cocoa (90%) or lower cocoa (55%) dark chocolate each day for 30 days.

  • After 30 days, Blood pressure reduced in both groups with Higher Cocoa Consumption and Lower Cocoa Consumption:
  • In the low-dose group, average systolic blood pressure reduced by 2.4mmHg and diastolic blood pressure reduced by 1.7mmHg
  • In the high-dose group, average systolic blood pressure reduced by 3.5mmHg and diastolic blood pressure reduced by 2.3mmHg
  • An improvement in the function of the lining of blood vessels was seen  more in the high-dose group.
  • This was estimated to be an improvement of 2.6% in the low-dose group and 7.8% in the high-dose group (5).

Eating Dark Chocolate Improves Cognitive Activity

Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoid that can have effects on body composition and cognitive performance.

The main results of the study was that intake of 6.8 g of dark chocolate is enough to cause a decrease in the AP Delta and Theta, and an increase in the AP Alpha and Beta in the temporo-occipital leads without changes of brain oscillations in the control group. In addition, a decrease in MF Alpha was found.

In the acute effect analysis study of the intake of a single dose of dark chocolate and the sub-chronic effect of daily intake for seven and eight days, there were notable changes in brain electrical activity 30 min after dark chocolate intake without changes of brain oscillations in the control group. It has been postulated that the cognitive acute effects appear a few minutes after dark chocolate intake and can be mediated indirectly by vascular mechanisms that cause an increase in cerebral blood flow (6).

In recent studies, it was shown that dark chocolate intake with a mean dose of 516 mg and a high dose of 903 mg of flavonoid increases brain blood flow as evaluated by functional magnetic resonance (7).

Reduce Stress

This study assessed the electroencephalography (EEG) response to consuming 48 g of dark chocolate (70% cacao) after an acute period of time (30 mins) and after a chronic period of time (120 mins), on modulating brain frequencies 0-40 Hz, specifically beneficial gamma frequency (25-40 Hz). Findings show that this super-food of 70 percent cacao enhances neuro-plasticity for behavioral and brain health benefits (8).

Benefits for Your Weight

Chocolate is high in fibre and gives satiety, keeping you feeling full – eating a small amount before a meal triggers satiety hormones letting you know you are full, so you eat less. Possibly, finishing a meal with some chocolate could stop snacking between meals.

In a study conducted by Institute of Diet and Health, GERMANY with One group was instructed to keep a low-carb diet and to consume an additional daily serving of 42 grams of chocolate with 81% cocoa content (chocolate group). Another group was instructed to follow the same low-carb diet as the chocolate group, but without the chocolate intervention (low-carb group).

  • Both the participants of the chocolate group and the low-carb group lost weight.
  • The subjects of the low-carb group lost 3.1 percent of their body weight in 21 days and the chocolate group lost 3.2 percent.
  • The body mass index decreased in the chocolate group to 0.93.
  • Remarkably, participants in the chocolate group lost more weight than those of the low-carb group (9).

Purchase and Storage

  • Choose 70% dark chocolate or higher to obtain the most flavanols.
  • Store in a cool dry area (65-70 F) in a tightly sealed container.
  • Do not refrigerate, which can promote a whitish coating caused by sugar rising to the surface due to excess moisture.
  • If stored properly, dark chocolate will last up to two years.
  • Helps reduce cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods (10).

Try having a square of dark chocolate next time you think you “need” a high fat/sugar fix at 3pm to get you through to dinner.

Not Too Much, Not Too Often Is Just Right

Reference:

  1. https://www.chocolate.org/blogs/chocolate-blog/a-brief-history-of-chocolate
  2. https://www.ehchocolatier.com/blogs/blog/making-chocolate
  3. https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/31/13/1616/418351
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900718311298
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/does-eating-few-squares-dark-chocolate-day-improve-blood-pressure/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6262453/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16794461/
  8. https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.2018.32.1_supplement.878.10
  9. http://melaniestefan.net/Bohannon.pdf
  10. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/dark-chocolate/

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